92Y Pulls Guest Author After He Calls for Gaza Ceasefire, Pauses Series After Uproar

After an appearance by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen was cancelled by 92Y–after he signed a letter calling for a ceasefire in the latest Israel-Palestine war–numerous staff members resigned. Now, 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center is cancelling its author talks indefinitely.

| 28 Oct 2023 | 03:27

92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center called off a guest appearance by critically acclaimed author Viet Thanh Nguyen on October 20–due to his support for a ceasefire in the latest Israel-Palestine war, as well as his continued advocacy for the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions (against Israel) movement–before calling off the entire literary series on October 23.

“We are a Jewish institution that has always welcomed people with diverse viewpoints to our stage,” 92Y said in a statement on Oct. 21, adding that “the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and the continued holding of hostages, including senior citizens and young children, has absolutely devastated the community. Given the public comments by the invited author on Israel and this moment, we felt the responsible course of action was to postpone the event while we take some time to determine how best to use our platform and support the entire 92NY community.”

”I signed this letter, along with many other authors. I hope there is a moral consensus that killing civilians is wrong, whether Hamas does it or whether Israel does it,” Nguyen had said in an Instagram post two days before a scheduled talk on his new memoir, “A Man of Two Faces.” “I try to keep space in my mind and heart for all the victims and their loved ones. We share a common humanity,” he continued.

Nguyen ended up holding the same talk at The Strand in lower Manhattan, independent of 92NY. Bernard Schwartz, the poetry center’s director, called his parent organization’s decision “unacceptable.” He also claimed that it would lead to a slippery slope of suppressed speech at future events.

92NY further noted that staff had resigned in protest over Nguyen’s cancellation, making the continuation of the series incredibly difficult. What’s more, other authors slated to speak later in the series pulled out and expressed outrage at the organization, including: the critics Andrea Long Chu and Saidiya Hartman, the poet Paisley Rekdal, and the novelist Dionne Brand.

”The 92Y is clearly on a path to abandoning its liberal values this is also perfectly ‘rational’ behavior for a partisan institution with basically illiberal goals,” Chu said in a recent thread about her decision on X.com (formerly known as Twitter). She also called the 92NY a “pro-war nonprofit.”

The 92Y, located on the corner of E. 92nd St. & Lexington Ave., was founded in 1876 as the New York Young Men’s Hebrew Association. It has been a secularized Jewish organization for nearly a century, when executive director William Kolodney greatly expanded its cultural initiatives in the 1930s. The Unterberg Poetry Center, founded in 1939, was one of these creations. Guests have included Langston Hughes, Dylan Thomas, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie.